Recent blackout in Ulsan highlights need for advanced grid

2023.12.08 12:34:01 | 2023.12.08 12:51:00

[Photo by Yonhap]이미지 확대

[Photo by Yonhap]

Ulsan, a metropolitan city in southern South Korea, was hit by a citywide blackout on Wednesday. A total of 155,000 households suffered from power loss for two hours, with citizens stuck in stopped elevators and left confused in front of traffic lights that went blank. The massive blackout was the first largest of its kind since a power outage affected around 200,000 households across Seoul and Gyeonggi Province in 2017.

This latest incident reflects an immediate need for substantial investment in grid facilities and proper levels of electricity rate hikes, critics noted.

State-run electricity utility Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) attributed the outage to a malfunctioning substation in Ulsan. In a statement released on Thursday, it apologized for any inconvenience caused and vowed to come up with preventive measures.

But critics said the latest incident was a consequence of delayed facility investment across the country amid the state utility’s already overwhelming deficits. The lack of investment could lead to similar incidents at more vulnerable power generation facilities, and critics are calling for a boost in grid infrastructure investment.

Some cities in southern Gyeonggi Province, including Suwon, Yongin, and Pyeongtaek, reported regional blackouts following an abnormal decline in voltage on November 14 that even halted a roller coaster at Everland, an amusement park in Yongin.

In response, concerns are mounting that KEPCO’s insufficient investment in substations and other grid facilities, mainly due to its heavy debt, could put the country at risk of more frequent similar power outages. As the primary challenge for the state utility lies in narrowing its debt, KEPCO announced a spending cut of 1.3 trillion won ($987.8 million) by 2026 involving a delay of substation construction projects.

However, lower investment in energy supply could have disastrous outcomes, including falling quality of energy and lack of safety, all of which could result in less competitive key national technologies.

Ensuring grid reliability requires immediate investment, and the essential means to achieve this is by raising electricity rates. Despite the previous five hikes since April 2022, the increase has been modest and is insufficient to address KEPCO’s existing deficit of 47 trillion won. Additional rate increases are therefore necessary to facilitate the expansion of power facilities.

By Editorial Team

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